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April 17, 2021

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State workers rally in Vancouver

Employees voice frustration, warn of potential shutdown's impact

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published:
3 Photos
State employee Alex King rallies at the Department of Social and Health Services  in Vancouver on Thursday.
State employee Alex King rallies at the Department of Social and Health Services in Vancouver on Thursday. As the state prepares for a partial shutdown, state employees rally across the state, including in Vancouver, to push the Legislature to act. Photo Gallery

If lawmakers in Olympia fail to agree on a budget by the first of July, Donna Orr has a number she’s supposed to call early in the morning to find out whether she should report to work that day. Orr, who works in the division of child support at the state’s Department of Social and Health Services, was told to call each day until a budget deal is struck.

It’s a frustrating prospect, she said.

Lawmakers are in the midst of a second special legislative session. The governor’s top budget staff said in a press conference on Thursday they are optimistic the state will avert a partial government shutdown, but they still need to start preparing for one. The same day Gov. Jay Inslee’s staff outlined the state’s shutdown contingency plan, members of the union American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, added their voices to the growing chorus of those frustrated by inaction in Olympia.

The instability in her office, Orr said, makes it difficult to retain qualified younger workers.

Alex King, who also works at the department, said staff hasn’t recovered from years of budget cuts, and temporary layoffs would be felt throughout the state. King joined other union members in a rally Thursday outside his office in Vancouver.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, King said, “is the state’s safety net.”

“We need to be supported so we can support the state,” King said.

If lawmakers fail to agree on a two-year operating budget by June 30, more than 25,000 state workers would be temporarily suspended, according to Inslee’s staff.

David Schumacher, director of the Office of Financial Management, said there is still plenty of time to agree on a budget and the public shouldn’t be overly concerned yet. But he added it was likely temporary layoff notices would go to some state employees starting Tuesday.

A partial government shutdown would also mean state parks would close and community corrections officers would stop keeping track of many parolees.

Joan Gallagher, a council representative with AFSCME, said she knows of many families who can’t afford expensive vacations over the summer and she’s keeping her fingers crossed it doesn’t come to a shutdown.

Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, who is speaker pro tempore of the House, said he believes “when people are ushered out of the state parks over the Fourth of July weekend,” lawmakers might start hearing from constituents.

“When businesses don’t get a transportation package, that will make an impact. When Eastern Washington guys with big hats and big trucks are unable to sell their water to other guys with big hats and big trucks, that will make a big impact. … It’s a big game of chicken — see who blinks first,” Moeller said.

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